In the dead of night against the dark backdrop of blackened skies, a white phantasmal being glided from rooftop to rooftop with superb agility. It was trailed by wisp like apparitions blinking in and out sight, yet none would witness their invisible parade. It’s next stop was at a certain commercial hub. Although their operations had slowed down to a near stop there were quite a few staff still sifting through paperwork and inventory.
‘Let’s try the front door first…’
Reason for Alicia’s intrusion was to gather as much information as she could from. During the day she and her Araneae would go around scouring town and its premises, noting down places of interest from the legal side of things. During the night where activity dies down, she would help herself with some reconnaissance.
Despite her overwhelmingly potent stealth skill which in reality would allow her to waltz right into a castle on high alert, assassinate its lord and slip out without anyone noticing, she was erring on the side of caution. Determining how effective her skill is going to be on people required her to use Soul Echo, a skill that immediately breaks stealth upon use. Not leaving anything to chance, she always assumed the worst and made her way up. Additionally guilds had records of transactions which meant at the very least she could determine the market price of goods. The funds acquired from her encounter with the brigands while impressive it was impermanent and would deplete sooner or later. Securing a stable source of income would afford her some freedom of action in interacting with any civilizations using currency.
After some maneuvering and sticking to ceiling corners of rooms and hallways, hiding behind chandeliers. Alicia found her inside a dark archive-like room holding numerous scrolls and paperwork. Reading was an especially difficult challenge for her as all letters looked like scribbled gibberish to her. Borrowing her little knowledge gained from Faenas and racking her mind through other documents she could make some sense out of them, after a painstakingly long study. Besides what she wanted, which was the market prices of day to day goods and luxury products she gained a bit more nuanced understanding of the guilds’ inner workings.
How they first came to be seems to be borne from few merchants thinking cooperatively rather than competitively. Centralizing their specialized skills and trade into a single organization with more to offer to all potential customers not only cut costs of labor and increased their profits but also allowed for easier access to resources and raw materials as there wasn’t a need for competition among the guild members. This was a massive success and quickly spread over much of the civilized world. Since then the guild’s changed and evolved as time went on and turned into its current form. Interestingly, despite being under the rule of the monarchy and needing the city or the town’s governing lord’s permissions to establish themselves, they have quite a bit of influence on the government’s decisions.
Furthermore while they are all known collectively as the guild, they are not a transnational entity or a unified organization. Similar as they may be, their individual internal rules and regulations vary wildly between each establishment. At the end of the day, whoever it is and whatever service or goods they are offering they must go through the guild otherwise they can be issues in forms of suppression, antagonization and fines.
‘Monarchies and Monopolies, lovely…’
The use of agents in manual labour was a recent development in terms of the guild’s services however being a big hit it too also was adopted quickly. Many towns and cities belonging to the very same country has a very deeply rooted nationalistic views among it’s citizenship, and guild’s were no different.
Although there have been some efforts given to breaking down these walls it had a long way to go. One example of it comes up in the form of agent migration. There is a certain ranking given to agents which is basically how valued and trusted that person was to a specific guild. The system varies from place to place but metal based systems seem to be widely adopted starting from bronze and ending in adamtite or orchicalcum. The ranks entitled them to some perks and benefits from the guild like favorable rewards, better prices with guild vendors and so on. Higher your rank goes, the better deals you get. But if the agent wants to move to another town they have to start over again from the bottom. A scheme to both keep their talent from streaming out but also to keep outsiders away. Here reference letters, like the one Alicia received, play their part. Guilds often exchange these letters to recommend an agent to one and another.
Looking through reports of commissions completed previously revealed an interesting insight to the guild’s policies. Agents were not confined to their respective parties. The parties for commissions were formed based on what is necessary for the successful completion of the commission. Parties had to meet the requirements set by the commissioner, be it magecraft, brute force, specific professional skills or simply numbers before they were set out and were disbanded as soon as they returned. However it was not rare for some close individuals to come together again.
The rewards are set and agreed upon beforehand and any extra gains were decided internally. Success of a commission was not just determined by the completion but also survival rate, client satisfaction, completion and so on. If the party underperformed, only the base rewards would be given and they may even lose progression to their next rank. If a member went missing, everyone’s payments were withheld for up to fifteen days until they returned or docked by up to half if there was a fatality. A policy to discourage any out of sight shenanigans.
Right when she thought she was done another intriguing fact cropped up from documents. Many guilds were in control of something… the words used were completely alien to her but it read through them over and over again cross referencing along the way she could piece together a rough understanding of the objects mentioned. In certain places all across the country and perhaps even the world, an unstable doorway to ‘other worlds’ open temporarily. Guilds took it up to themselves with researching, exploring, evaluating and ultimately securing the realms beyond the doors wherever they can and the monarch of Pyrinia at least seems to invest some funds into backing the guild operations to these endeavors.
‘Where there’s profit to be made, there’ll be merchants… but it’s not all that happy go lucky it seems… the portals can close unexpectedly, forever stranding hapless workers and adventurers or change exit locations without notice. And they can be located in some perilous places… Judging from the various reports people see strange flashes in the sky, sailors find glowing… things deep within the dark abyss of oceans. And if I’m interpreting this one correctly, one portal straight up opened into a volcano, I can imagine the looks on the faces of the people’s face who tried to stick their hands through it. There’s more to it but…’
Looking around she couldn’t find any more records about the subject.
‘Confidential information that I won’t just find lying around in a dusty room is it… I don’t think I’ll get anything else from here… I do know another place…’
Tidying up the binded scrolls and leatherback books as best as she could she made her quiet escape.
‘Seeing how they can get a lucky haul sometimes and bring in interesting stuff I suppose the risks are worth it… Hopefully they don’t notice the break in… These guys don’t know about forensics right…? I should make myself a pair of gloves.’
Needlessly worrying about her fingerprints left behind she turned towards her next destination… the noble estates away from the town. Although towns sometimes had libraries and archives known as lyceum or bibliotheca depending on the culture, they were scarcely available to the public or had enough useful information. In comparison, wealthy merchants and noble families had accrued quite the collection of literature over time and that’s what she wanted. In addition to learning more about the ‘doorways’ she had hoped to find out more about practically everything. This world was still far too foreign for her with countless unknowns. For a start, she wanted to know about the history and the culture of the kingdom and its neighbours if possible.
In no time at all she was in the landshaft1Landshaft Design of a three storey tall manor some ways off the town, of whose property it was, she did not know. She only picked one based on impressiveness.
‘I should’ve asked Rosalia about the prominent figures around here… too late now. That balcony looks promising… I guess they don’t expect assassins to be scaling the walls through the front huh… Sorry for the intrusion…’
As soon as she entered the building, something felt ever so slightly… off, trusting her instincts she quickly stuck to the ceilings honing her senses to identify the cause. Giving all her attention to pallesthesia she started locating all people on the inside, guards with their heavy footfalls patrolling the lower floors, the masters’ peaceful resting breaths, tired servants’ snoring snooze and finally found the reason for her unease among all the distractions.
From one end of the long hallway she was in, a single individual’s prowling footsteps caught her attention. They were dressed in a servant’s attire and held no candle holder or any source of light, apparently the pale moon’s glow was enough for them. However unmistakably Alicia saw their eyes’ green glow, recognizing it to be similar to the direwolves’ piercing gaze in the night. Even some of her Araneae, the ones that are especially active possessed it and she herself was no exception. The reflective coverlet.
‘Therianthrope… but what morph…?’
Therianthropes were beings standing on the border between beast and man. Lithiline she decided to ‘procure’ too was a therianthrope. Gifted with the sharpened senses of their wild counterparts to a somewhat lesser degree. Regardless, they made for excellent sentries compared to the average humans sometimes earning them a place in higher echelons of society.
Realizing that there was an actual, albeit low, risk of being compromised, Alicia started taking things a bit more seriously than her trespassing into the guild. She shut her eyes without hesitation as her own eyes were reflective in certain light conditions as well. Even blind, she could easily track the therianthrope. As they arrived right under her they seemed to crouch down sniffing and looking around… A thought crossed her mind to use transposition in an event that she’s discovered to retreat back to the inn and immediately dispel the image into a puddle of water so as to not leave any trace behind other than a wet carpet, however there were few key details someone perceptive could notice and use to correlate her involvement, it would be a minor problem even if that were to happen. There was however, another way… she just hoped it wouldn’t come down to her injecting a couple lethal doses of neurotoxin to someone innocent.
An effeminate sneeze filled the hall for a brief moment. After a few sniffles the therianthrope continued down the hallway going past her. Opening her eyes after they had passed her she noticed a bushy tail peeking out under their uniform.
‘Canidmorph… Seems like she’s closer to wolves than anything else… which subspecies I have no idea… Just avoid her and find the study or something equivalent… maybe stick to the ceilings… yeah that sounds good…’
After the perceived close call she managed to find the private office next to the lord’s bedchambers. Only thing barring her passage were the locked doors. However, her hex crawlers could easily slip underneath the gap of the doors and with them sharing what they saw allowed her to use Trespass to gain entry. Just as she expected, there were bookshelves well stocked with plenty of books. Through light browsing with a fingertip’s worth of flame illuminating the texts, she found no information related to the portals the guild studies. However she did find some history books containing the information about the first Nobles of the countries, about the demon lords and a recent and hopefully more accurate map of Pyrinia showing it’s strategic towns and settlements. Since she couldn’t copy or take it with her without raising alarms she tried her best to wrap her head around the details.
Alicia’s overly abridged study of the history of humanity went as follows. When mankind first shifted towards sedentary lifestyle through the advent of agriculture and the first of civilization started to form obviously some were more privileged than others. Many of today’s aristocrats were descendants of families who owned particularly fertile land fit for farming. You own the land, you own the food - a currency that everyone needs to survive. When you have food that other people want they’ll be much more inclined to trade you for it for something that you don’t have. Craftsmen who could make better tools, builders for comfortable houses and so on. Those who didn’t have anything better to offer basically offered their services. They worked the lands for the ‘wealthy’ landowners - which were more or less a tribe of extended family - to earn their food. These low class workers were valuable as more people meant they could work more land and therefore more food. More food meant more people coming and before you know it, the very first forms of civilization came to be. In this society the original land owners were obviously more important and were fit to rule making them the proto nobility, even if they weren’t called as such during that time, more like god-king so and so.
The other option to nobility was far more simpler and violent. You get a lot of swords, tons of men who were willing to listen to you and went on to raid other people for food if you didn’t have such arable land for farming. Sometimes you could just kill the leading class and take their place, securing yourself both ‘citizens’ to work the land and getting a nice place to call home. There was an obvious appeal for this militaristic approach. Strong and plentiful soldiers were an effective deterrent for any rivals that would seek raid food supplies. “If you can’t protect what’s yours, do you really deserve it?” was their mentality. Although seemingly barbaric, this was exactly how some earned the prestigious title of nobility. Eventually people learnt to deal with things diplomatically leading to the first of the kingdoms and empires forming however the quarrelsome nature never truly went away with history always being fuel for future conflicts.
As for demon lords, it seemed to have more fiction than facts, reading more like a legend or a story than a documentation. Even the few hex crawlers she brought with her were listening to her inner reading voice as if they were here for a storytime. However two stories stood out in particular, Lillian the whore-mother and Unnamed wolven beast known as Scourge of gods. What brought Alicia’s attention to these stories were their backgrounds, if they were to be believed. Both seemed to come out of nowhere quickly, possessing arcane knowledge and brought about great disasters for humans. Lillian appears to be quite the carnal individual seeking pleasure for herself from pretty much anything. Described as having ‘bewitching looks that seduced man and beast alike’ ‘horns of a ram’, ‘claws of burning passion’, ‘leathern wings blacker than the skies of moonless nights,’ ‘the devouring serpent at her back’ which appears to be a roundabout way of saying she had a prehensile tail and lastly ‘hair of chiseled marble’ who rallied prostitutes and turned them to demons of lust before simply disappearing.
Alicia wasn’t sure if it was some sort of admirer’s love letter or factual account. The scourge is an interesting case. It was described as a wolven beast of humongous size, capable of running over mighty trees with ease. It’s most famous case is that it absolutely destroyed a religious city-state located in a searing desert said to be the home to the one true god by bringing about a relentless blizzard among other accounts of deicide hence its name. And of course, it seemed to be regarded as a god of sorts itself by wolves during its time, with some societies even taking to worshipping it. Again the curious fact about it was its physical appearance. The scourge of gods was known to have a fur white as the first flake of snowfall with streaks of frosty blue. His story ends with a little more closure. It is said that he retreated to boreal forests seeking the tallest peaks of indeterminate location, where supposedly he still resides. Legends say that one he will descend from the mountains to devour gods once more.
‘As much as I want to dismiss this… apparently there are people who are out there still worshipping white wolves believing them to be the messenger from their morally ambiguous god… It’s gotten real easy to read now all of the sudden… Who set that big ball of fire…? Oh… the sun… of course. Wait, The Sun! What time is it? Did I miss the first bell?! I need to get out of here!’
After making a hasty cleanup she made her exit safely.
‘Ooof, close call there. Right what was I going to do today… Ah right I need to bulk buy salt, some hinges and nails, maybe some farming tools… Oh and find someone who can buy my excess silk cloth and garbs, hopefully get a long term deal going… Alright back to playing into my role of a normal girl’
As she was thinking of the agenda for the day, the first bell rang, rousing the townspeople and with it carriage left for the regional capital carrying Rosalia’s message among other documents…